Twenty minutes of what only vaguely resembled basketball later, at least on WSU's part, the Cougars' momentum and no doubt a chunk of their confidence lay in ashes at center court. Apparently it requires more than two points -- coming on free throws, no less -- over almost the final seven minutes to knock off one of the nation's elite teams before a sellout crowd on the road.
| CRIMSON COMMENTARY|
1) The Cougars are human. Relatively young ones, too, in the grand scheme of things.
2) WSU has no one -- not a single, solitary soul -- who can take over a game except on the rarest of occasions. Balance, teamwork and experience are wonderful things, but they're rendered somewhat worthless when a 7-foot man-child like NBA-millionaire-in-waiting Brook Lopez of Stanford decides he wants to kick your teeth in while being guarded by relatively normal college students.
3) Anybody can beat anybody on a given day in the Pac-10. Except for Oregon State, because you have to be somebody to be anybody, and OSU is nobody when it comes to hoops.
Can it really be so few years ago when the Beavers were a national powerhouse and the Cougars were … well, they barely qualified as a Whitman County powerhouse. How soon we forget that it was just two years ago when WSU finished 4-14 in the Pac-10.
It's stunning, really, how many Cougar faithful are disappointed with the WSU's 10-7 record in perhaps the best conference in the nation. Have we all forgotten how Paul Graham guided WSU to nine Pac-10 victories in four YEARS? Read it and weep at the roll call of Graham's four seasons of Pac-10 infamy in Pullman: 1-17, 5-13, 1-17 and 2-16.
All the Cougars have done in Tony Bennett's two years at the helm is win 23 conference games and 48 games overall. For perspective, check out the conference and overall win totals of the following accomplished coaches in their first two years as head coach at Washington State:
Fred Bohler – 8/22; Jack Friel – 14/23; Marv Harshman – 3/23; George Raveling – 5/14; Kelvin Sampson – 11/23; Dick Bennett – 14/25.
In fairness, some of those men coached fewer games than Tony Bennett, or weren't in conferences both seasons, or inherited massive rebuilding projects. The bottom line, however, is that the Cougars are headed to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in Bennett's two seasons as commander in chief, and Washington State went Dancin' just four times prior to Bennett's arrival. WSU has four NCAA Tournament victories in school history and Bennett is responsible for one-fourth of that total, including half of the two (repeat, two) wins over the past 66 years.
Will Bennett add to that total this year?
My crystal ball says "yes."< BR>
Why? Because virtually all 32 teams that survive the first day of the NCAA Tournament are very good to outstanding teams, and most of those teams have a go-to scorer who can determine a game's outcome with a singularly dominant performance at crunch time. The Cougars, talented and balanced and hard working though they may be, do not have such a player.
Once the Cougars head home from the tourney, look for Indiana and virtually every other school with gunnysacks of cash to try to turn Bennett into a rich(er) man. If Bennett wants more money from WSU, he should remain eerily silent on his future plans and hope the poorest athletic department in the Pac-10 can make him even richer, although 800 grand a year seems like a decent living wage. And no, I don't buy the theory that Bennett or anyone else must automatically grab every last dollar bill that's left in the vault. The man lives in Pullman, for cryin' out loud. How expensive can an Arby's combo meal be?
If Bennett wants to tell the world -- not to mention WSU's returning players and incoming recruits and record crowds -- that he's committed to finishing what he started in Pullman, all he has to do is say one word to his suitors: No. The longer he stays silent, the longer WSU's basketball future is held hostage.